columnBy Eric Kabeera
It is now a few days before the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cessation clause comes into effect. According to the UN refugee agency, this declaration stipulates that a person recognised as a refugee will either voluntarily return to the country of origin or apply for residence in the host country.
The clause was adopted after UN declared that Rwanda was politically, economically and socially stable, meaning that there was no need for any Rwandan national to continue to be referred to as a refugee.
Recently, this newspaper published a story of Rwandan refugees in Lusaka, Zambia resorting to buying citizenship from other countries soon after the realisation that the expiry of the cessation clause was nearing. This was a clear demonstration that they were not interested in returning home. Thus, the question is; what would happen to those caught up by deadline and at the same time fail to secure citizenship of the host countries?
Government in partnership with UN refugee agency has devoted enormous resources including provision of transport during the repatriation process as well as the reintegration process. Through the latter, returnees are offered a stipend alongside domestic materials to start new lives with ease. For instance, children are taken to schools besides accessing medical insurance cover. Those learned also secure top government positions. Hence, who would not want to live in a society where all people are treated equally without discrimination?
For some time now, Rwandan refugees have been given an opportunity to return home unconditionally under the programme "Come and See Go and Tell". Through the initiative, they are sponsored to travel back to the country to freely observe the prevailing situation in the country and eventually relay what they have witnessed to their compatriots.
Unlike in previous regimes where refugees were threatened not to return home under the ploy that land in the country was too scarce to accommodate all Rwandans.
Although Rwanda is amongst the smallest countries in the world, it has never technically failed to accommodate her inhabitants and that is why those who return are entitled to either settle in their former land or are resettled in other areas to unreservedly move on with their normal lives.
I would like to notify my fellow citizens residing as refugees not to take the offer to return home for granted. There was a time when some nationals had to come back home trekking without neither food nor shelter but rather, out of the sheer desire to have their children born and raised within their motherland.
I have had an opportunity to interact with different returnees from different walks of life. Unsurprisingly, most believe that there is nothing in life as dreadful as living as a refugee in another country. Despite feeling deprived of one's humanity, a refugee does not even fit in the society. Refugees need to acknowledge that the government has freely availed the opportunity for them to return home, obtain a national identity card, passport, among other relevant documents, and seek a livelihood abroad if they so wish.
Today, an estimated 70,000 Rwandans still live as refugees in different countries especially in the Great Lakes region, and so far, since 1994, the government has managed to voluntarily repatriate over 3.4 million. In this regard, credit goes to the ministry in charge of refugees and UNHCR for their sensitisation campaigns.
However, it is still necessary to ensure that even the remaining number of refugees, however meagre, is repatriated to ensure that they play their rightful role in national development and therefore feel part and parcel of being Rwandan.